Approaching The Bubble - Satellite Vs. Freezeout Poker TournamentsAs the bubble approaches in a poker tournament several profitable strategy adjustments can be made. In a standard poker tournament (a 'freezeout') the big pay outs are still potentially a long way off. In a satellite, in which every player gets an identical prize, surviving the bubble is your sole objective. This article contrasts the 2 different types of tournament and looks at how to optimally adjust your strategy for each.
Bubble play is dependant on several factors, including your stack size, the tendencies of your opponents and whether simply getting 'into the money' is important to you (as opposed to building your stack for the final table). Opponents will also have their own agenda - often dictated by their own stack size. It is the interplay of these factors that shape tournament bubble strategy.
In a satellite tournament all of the paying places are identical - usually a seat in a bigger tournament. Here stack sizes are the only important factor. The first thing to do when approaching the bubble of a satellite is to review the stack sizes of your opponents. If there are still several tables in play it is likely that there are a number of small stacks among the remaining players. Comparing their stacks to the blinds and antes will quickly give you an idea of how long each player can last.
If you have a medium or large stack then satellite bubble play usually involves doing absolutely nothing! That is to say that if you can fold into the paying places, especially when blinds are very high, then it is usually correct to do so. There is no benefit to playing hands other than aces (and even these can be folded in the right circumstances).
Should your stack be on the smaller side then matters are very much different - since your opponents will be waiting for you to bust to ensure themselves a paying place. In this case you should be looking for the right 'targets' for all-in blind steals. Opponents with stack sizes such that they would lose half or more of their chips if they called and lost are ideal here. These players will be comfortable enough not to want to risk their own seat with anything other than a monster hand.
In contrast, approaching the bubble of a freezeout tournament involves paying less attention to the stacks at other tables, and more attention to your own table. The 'fear of busting' prevalent in a satellite tournament does not exist to the same degree in a freezeout tournament. This is because the small amount of money to be made by cashing, in proportion to the final table payout, is less significant.
Opponents with short and medium size stacks will generally tighten up at the bubble of a freezeout. However the hands played are likely to be a far wider range than in a satellite tournament. Stealing blinds and antes here is a positive expectation play - your chances of a successful steal are higher before the bubble bursts than afterwards. If you have a large stack at the bubble it is a great opportunity to accumulate even more chips by raising often when first into the pot. If you are a small stack then taking some risks after a big stack has raised can often lead you to a profitable situation - if you are prepared to risk going out before the money in order to increase your chance of a larger payout.
To summarize, the bubbles of satellite and freezeout tournaments involve completely different strategy considerations. In a satellite there is no benefit to collecting more chips and risks should be avoided where you are able to 'fold into the money'. In a freezeout the benefit of cashing, compared with the benefit of building a stack that will help you to reach the final table, dictate more aggressive play. In either tournament type the tendencies and stack sizes of your opponents need to be factored in to your decisions.
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